QADIR Baloch is a regular visitor to Mengal Hotel in the Chaman Patak area, which is situated in the centre of this city. After his retirement, he now spends most of his time at home.

But after the previous provincial government completed its term, he started coming out of his home to grab a cup of tea with his nephew Mohammad Yahya, 30. Yahya, who is a worker of the Balochistan Awami Party, lives in the same locality. But they either do not want to sit at home or have been asked to discuss politics and elections at the same Mengal Hotel.

Both uncle and nephew hail from Balochistan’s Chaghi district. They usually come to Quetta during the summer. Clean-shaven Qadir Baloch, who is in his early 60s, is a chain-smoker.

Take a look: Senate elections and power manoeuvres in Balochistan

Qadir and his nephew while away hours in the shabby hotel, but they do not see eye to eye over the politics of Chaghi in particular and Rakhshan in general. As days pass on, their debate gets livelier.

Before the latest delimitation NA-268 comprised five districts — Chaghi, Nushki, Mastung, Kalat and Sikandarabad. It was the biggest constituency in terms of area and population in the country.

After a hue and cry, it was redrawn and now comprises Chaghi, Nushki and Kharan. And the whole area is now predominantly known as the Rakhshan division in the western part of Balochistan. It shares a border with Iran and Afghanistan.

In Chaghi, Mohammad Yahya’s favourite candidate is Amanullah Notezai, who is contesting elections in PB-34. A matter of concern for Yahya is that the younger brother of the Senate chairman, Ejaz Sanjrani, has said goodbye to Amanullah’s alliance. The two had been allies for a long time.

This region is not a hotbed of Baloch nationalism either and nationalist forces have failed to make their presence felt here. Zahir Mengal, a teacher, at the University of Balochistan

After puffing on a cigarette, Qadir Baloch tells Yahya: “So this time there is a probability that your candidate will lose.”

A bewildered Yahya replies: “It is too early to make predictions.”

Ali Raza Rind, a reporter based in Dalbandin, the headquarters of Chaghi, agrees. “There is a tough competition between Arif Jan Mohammad Hassani and Amanullah Notezai in PB-34.”

In Rakhshan division, politics has always been a hotchpotch. In these three districts, politicians have almost always been turncoats. This part of Balochistan has never known ideological politics. It has only known electable candidates and their bags of money.

“This region is not a hotbed of Baloch nationalism either and nationalist forces have failed to make their presence felt here,” according to Zahir Mengal, who teaches political science at the University of Balochistan. “Pro-federation forces have filled the vacuum. That is why they rule the roost.”

In Kharan district, Karim Nausherwani, who is currently in the Balochistan Awami Party, and his family have been winning since 1985 in their constituency (PB-42). He knows how to entertain his supporters. For instance, he drives rickshaws, tractors and motorcycles. In addition, he sometimes speaks to them in Arabic or English, although he is not good at these languages.

He is also popularly known as Shahrukh Khan, thanks to his hairstyle.

In 2013, he defeated Senator Sana Baloch, a nationalist who writes columns for English-language newspapers and gives analyses on the province’s political scene on private TV channels. He once figured on BBC’s Hard Talk too.

“Sana Baloch enjoys popularity on media while Karim has been on the ground from day one,” local journalist Tayyab Yallanzai told Dawn. “This is why Karim is more popular than Sana.”

Conversations with reporters based in Kharan suggest “there is a tough competition between Karim Nausherwani and Sana Baloch”. People in this region in particular, and in Balochistan in general, vote for individuals, and not for parties. For instance, the Balochistan National Party-Mengal’s (BNP-M’s) position strengthened in Nushki for a simple reason — Babu Rahim Mengal, a minister in the Raisani government, joined the BNP. He has an extraordinary vote bank in Nushki.

“Babu Rahim has inherited popularity from his father, who was a man of principles, as well as a leader in the National Awami Party (NAP),” recalls Zahir Mengal.

“Ameerul Mulk Mengal, a former governor of Balochistan, Gul Khan Naseer, who won a provincial assembly seat on NAP ticket in 1970, and Babu Rahim belong to the same family. That is why they have followers in Nushki. And people vote for them.”

“When we speak to the people, they say they will vote for Babu Rahim this time,” claims Tayyab Yallanzai, “But his opponents are also trying to make a grand alliance against him, but right now he is in the lead.” Babu Rahim is contesting elections in PB-33. The NA-268 constituency, which comprises Chaghi-cum-Kharan-cum-Nushki, is giving a tough time to candidates. There are 90,565 registered voters in Chaghi, 85,965 in Nushki, and 57,761 in Kharan.

Sardar Fateh Muhammad Hassani of the BAP, Mohammad Hashim Notezai of teh BNP-M, Haji Usman Badini of the JUI-F, and Abdul Qadir Baloch, the PML-N provincial chief, are being tipped as strong contenders.

Sardar Fateh and Hashim Notezai have a reasonable following in both Kharan and Nushki. However, the Nushki-based Usman Badini and Abdul Qadir Baloch, based in Kharan, might find the going tough outside their native districts.

“Sardar Fateh does have support outside his Chaghi base — among tribesmen in Kharan and Nushki. As for Hashim Notezai, BNP candidates Sana Baloch and Babu Rahim Mengal do have vote banks in their districts and they can help Hashim win,” according to an analyst.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2018

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